It was clear what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed to do after the halfway mark on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals: keep their foot on the gas.

The Buccaneers played their best half of football throughout the first 30 minutes of the Bengals matchup – both on offense and defense. The offense routinely marched up and down the field to the tune of 17 points, which helped the defense limit Joe Burrow and co. to just 20 offensive plays and three points.

In order to keep that going, the Buccaneers needed a fast start out of halftime. The only question was whether or not they could pull it off.

When it comes to the second half of games, the Buccaneers have notoriously floundered throughout the season and it’s for a variety of reasons. But, as we all know, each week is a different week in the NFL. Meaning, the Buccaneers had a chance to go against the grain and finish the game in Week 15.

Well, sure enough, the Buccaneers found a way to shoot themselves in the foot and they found said way pretty damn quickly.

It happened on the first drive of the second half. On the fourth play of the third quarter, to be exact.

The Buccaneers went three-and-out after Rachaad White came up a yard short of the conversion and lined up to punt on 4th and 1 from their own 26. But, instead of snapping the ball to Jake Camarda, the ball was snapped to veteran running back Giovani Bernard, who subsequently watched the ball bounce off his facemask and onto the ground.

Bernard recovered the ball, but it was for a two-yard loss, which obviously led to the Bengals’ first second-half possession starting at the Buccaneers 24. The Buccaneers defense did its job and held the Bengals to three points, but the mishap got the ball rolling on what became five straight Buccaneers possessions ending in a turnover.

And the icing on the miserable cake is the Buccaneers likely would’ve pulled off the punt if everyone was on the same page.

“It was a fourth-and-one and they had a front that we could take advantage of,” said Bowles. “It was blocked well. We could have run for four or five yards, but we missed the ball.”

“… It was the perfect time.”

The play in itself was bizarre enough and it’s unclear as to who is really at fault. While it appears that Bernard is the easy scapegoat, postgame interactions with both Bowles and Bernard prompt the notion that parsing responsibility isn’t as easy as Bowles initially laid out.

“We had it and we practiced all week we just didn’t handle the football,” Todd Bowles told reporters after the game. “… He [Bernard] knew it was coming. He missed the ball.”

Based off Bowles’ comments, it sounds like Bernard just had a brain fart at the worst time. At the same time, however, it’s the coaching staff’s job to make sure all of this is effectively communicated and that everyone is on the same page.

Did the Buccaneers rely too much on Bernard’s veteran experience, which led to a lack in communication or details? Did Bernard just space out in the huddle or forget/mistime the snap count?

Seriously, how does this happen?

Bernard’s postgame interview didn’t really clear things up, either.

“Miscommunication, that’s all it was, on my part,” Bernard said after the game. “I take complete fault for that.”

But when asked if the play was indeed a fake, Bernard immediately responded with an “I don’t know”. He was also trying to get out of dodge as quickly as possible, so he could’ve just said that to answer the question in hopes of getting the press off his back.

Regardless of who’s at fault, communication -or the lack thereof- has been a big problem for the Buccaneers all season long.

The staff has clearly failed to instill a culture/standard in which everything is laid out with every single necessary detail. The poor execution, ill-timed mistakes, and general cluelessness over the last three months is all the evidence we need.

And as we approach Week 16, hardly anything has changed for the better.

It honestly doesn’t matter if Bernard has been on IR for the majority of the year. If the Buccaneers truly practiced the play all week like Bowles said, then everyone on the field should’ve known the ball was going to Bernard.

Especially Bernard, himself.

The most alarming red flag coming out of this situation, however, is that this team still isn’t on the same page 15 weeks into the season. This has also been a common theme throughout the season and again, it’s an element the coaching staff has to find a way to fix.

But at this point, there is almost zero reason to believe that happens. If mistakes like this are happening at crucial points in games after a week of practice that focused on the botched play itself, then it’s more likely things stay status quo instead of the opposite.

And that, obviously, is a problem no one associated with the pewter and red wants to see, hear, or read.

Featured image via Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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